Somebody forget to remind Ryan Anderson and the Orlando Magic that the Philadelphia 76ers are the top-rated defense in the NBA. In the first head-to-head meeting back on Jan. 31, the Sixers' defense dominated a low-scoring slug fest. This time around, Ryan Anderson's 27 points and 7-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc paced a powerful offensive attack propelled by 15 made threes on 60 percent accuracy. The Magic secured the opening tip, hit the first shot, lunged to an early 23-6 lead and never trailed at any point during their impressive 103-87 home win
Jameer Nelson missed the first matchup due to lingering concussive symptoms, but he certainly made his mark in the rematch. The Sixers' defense sagged and smothered passing lanes to keep the ball away from Dwight Howard -- who still managed a 17-point, 14-rebound double-double -- so Nelson exploited the additional space, sliced towards the basket and distributed the ball on the perimeter on his way to tying a career-high with 14 assists (10 of them on made threes) to accompany his 12 points. .
Philadelphia never found a comfort level on either end of the floor. Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala and the rest of the Sixers wing defenders tried to stifle post entry gaps but then failed to close out on Magic sharp shooters fast enough, as Ryan Anderson (7-10), Jason Richardson (4-5) and J.J. Redick (2-3) feasted on wide open looks behind the three-point line. The Magic relentlessly executed the extra pass to stress Philly's defensive rotations throughout the game and they recorded assists on every one of their 15 made three-pointers as a result.
On offense, Jrue Holiday stumbled through a five-turnover, 1-of-8 shooting performance as the Sixers' starters got outscored 81-38 by their counterparts. Lou Williams entered from the bench and salvaged 21 points and seven assists amid the wreckage, but even he struggled to get Philadelphia back into the game. Each time they whittled the margin to single digits, Orlando renewed the focus until the game moved out of reach again. A 14-point first quarter from Ryan Anderson opened up the early lead, 8 points from Dwight Howard in the second period pushed the margin to 16 at the half and a balanced Magic attack blazed the path to victory over the remainder of the game.
Elton Brand worked in tandem with Nikola Vucevic to defend Howard admirably on the interior, and Brand added 13 points while Vucevic dropped in 10 on the offensive end. Howard still got the better of the matchup down low, but not by a huge margin. Brand grabbed only two rebounds, and Vucevic emerged with five, but after the game two rebounds from Ryan Anderson became the bigger story. Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy got a bit nitpicky with the leading scorer on the night in the post-game interview, especially considering that Orlando matched Philadelphia with 39 total rebounds:
"I don't think Ryan needs to think about getting shots, tonight they were there. Guys made plays to him, and that's how Ryan needs to play. He shot the ball great, but he played 29 ½ minutes and got two rebounds. That's not good enough, that means all you're doing out there is shooting the ball. He's got to be more than a shooter, he's got to be able to play well. I know what he's capable of doing."
"I want the guy to be striving to be a great player, not just a shooter."
After a disastrous end to the month of January, the Magic have now won seven of their last nine games, including three in a row, and are 19-11 overall. Meanwhile, the loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Sixers, who are 20-10 on the year.